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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, June 2007

In reviewing very favorably a new recording of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe with Laurent Petitgirard in his role as conductor leading the above named Bordeaux orchestra, I read in the enclosed booklet note to that CD that Petitgirard (b. 1950) is also a composer of some repute. And here he turns up on another Naxos disc containing three of his own works.

I must begin by noting two curiosities, one, a conceit of this label; the other, a publishing puzzlement. Naxos has released this CD under its series designated "21st Century Classics." Avoiding the obvious question of whether anything written in the last half-dozen years can truly be called "classic," I would instead point out that only two of the works on this program, Les douze gardiens du temple, written in 2004, and Poeme pour grand orchestre à cordes, written in 2002, can be said to belong to the 21st century. Euphonia is now well past the age of consent, having been written in 1989. As to the publishing puzzlement, I am at a loss to understand it. Clearly stamped on the CD itself are publication dates of 1986, 1997, and 1999, and an indication that the material on this Naxos disc was published by Le Chant du Monde. But 1986 predates the earliest composition, Euphonia, by three years; likewise, 1997 and 1999 also predate by a number of years the two later works, Les douze gardiens du temple and Poeme pour grand orchestre à cordes, leading one to wonder how music not yet written finds its way into print.

Les douze gardiens du temple ("The Twelve Temple Guards") is either a symphony in one movement or an extended tone poem that lasts for 26:30 minutes. Love it or hate it, you have to be amused when Petitgirard states that "the work uses five ancient Tibetan cymbals, instruments so dear to Claude Debussy, as if this temple had dreamt of sheltering a faun." I suspect that Debussy's mythological faun, were it to exist, upon hearing this piece would turn hide and run away from this temple as fast as it could.

Petitgirard tells us precious little else about the piece adding only "twelve guards and twelve notes, but no specific system, because there is nothing in this temple to prove that it is not one of tonality." Having no inclination to try to prove a negative, I will simply say that the piece is decidedly modernistic, but not in an uncompromising avant-garde way that would put anyone off. In fact, much of the score is quite colorful, atmospheric, and cinematic, revealing Petitgirard's experience writing for film and live theater-his opera, Joseph Merrick dit Elephant Man, has been recorded and issued on Naxos 8.557608. Anyone who works in these media, if nothing else, has mastered the craft of scoring for various combinations of instrumental forces; and "The Twelve Temple Guards" amply demonstrates Petitgirard's abilities as a brilliant orchestrator.

The Poem for Large String Orchestra is a whole different ball game. It is a haunting, at times surreal, at other times soaring lyrical lament that from one moment to the next calls to mind past influences as diverse as Barber's Adagio for Strings, Mahler's Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, and Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. The passage beginning at 7:49, bestows such benevolent tenderness and calm on the turbulence that precedes it that here is a temple in which not only fauns but all God's creatures great and small can dwell in peace. This is a gorgeous work that must be heard.

Euphonia, in three movements, is based, according to the note, on a futuristic tale by Hector Berlioz that tells of a jealous composer who, spurned by his lover, builds an ingeniously macabre trap to kill her and her new suitor—a dance pavilion worthy of Edgar Allan Poe in which the walls are activated by a mechanism that causes them to close in on the unaware dancing duo, slowly crushing them to death. The music that accompanies this horror story is enough to put you off elevators, bathrooms, closets, and other small enclosed spaces for at least a week. It's effectively creepy and suggestive of the same lust and sexual frustration that finds an outlet in the heinous acts of violence we witness in a work like Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin, only Petitgirard's score is even more malevolent. Truly chilling, Euphonia should come with a warning to the claustrophobic.

The Poem and Euphonia are fantastic pieces. Strongly recommended.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, April 2007

Laurent Petitgirard’s music has come to more prominence with the popularity of his opera Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man itself issued on Naxos. I suppose that I ought to clarify that statement, as it is Petitgirard’s concert music that is coming to prominence. He has had a parallel career writing music for TV (‘Maigret’) and Film (Otto Preminger’s ‘Rosebud’).

Petitgirard’s style is very French-sounding in a slightly old-fashioned way. His lush scores seem to owe rather a lot to Gallic composers of the first half of the 20th century rather than Messiaen and Boulez.

The ballet, Euphonia, was premiered in 1989 in Metz. The story is about a composer who loves a woman whom he discovers to be ‘base’. The plot is set in the future and the composer sets a trap for the woman that is triggered by music played as she dances. The end result is that the woman, and all the dancers, are crushed to death and the composer commits suicide. The musician who was conducting the music, who also loves the woman, goes mad. The tale is loosely based on a story by Berlioz. The ballet is in three movements. The first, Xilef, describes the young composer and his obsessive love for the woman, Mina. The second movement, Euphonia, seems to describe the city of Euphonia and evokes Mina’s dance of seduction. The last movement, La Piège, relates to the trap that the composer sets.

The results are dramatic and attractive though I did not actually manage to follow the plot through the score. This hardly matters, as Petigirard’s music is seductive in its own right. The Ljubljana Radio Symphony Orchestra copes very well and have become remarkably comfortable with Petitgirard’s style. There are occasional small lapses but nothing that is jarring. All in all the performance is very impressive.

The other two items were recorded in Bordeaux in 2005, by the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. Poème pour grand orchestre à cordes was written in 2002 and premiered by the French National Orchestra, conducted by the composer. Les Douze Gardiens du Temple was written in 2004 and premiered in Paris in 2006.

Poème is an attractive, fluid piece with some effective writing for strings. Les Douze Gardiens du Temple (The Twelve Guards of the Temple) is a long, rich piece. It uses a large orchestra - triple woodwind, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba and five percussionists (instruments including four ancient Tibetan cymbals). Petitgirard calls the piece ‘A Journey of Initiation for Full Symphony Orchestra’; the twelve temple guardians relating to the twelve notes. The journey unfolds in a leisurely manner with rich orchestration, great fluidity and variation, but harmonically the piece sounds very stable and not necessarily daring. There are many moments when the composer’s film background creeps in, but that certainly makes for an attractive and listenable score.

The Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine do the scores ample justice and the composer as conductor is certainly a talented guide to his own music.

The music on these discs won’t appeal if you are on the look out for modernism. But if you seek lush music, attractively orchestrated and evoking the sound-worlds of, perhaps, Honegger or Koechlin, then this disc is for you.

American Record Guide, April 2007

Laurent Petitgirard (b. 1950) is active as a composer of both concert and film music (150 film and television scores are mentioned in the notes) and has also made his mark as a conductor. This music does have the quality of incidental music, in a lush, overheated style that harks back to French Wagnerism, with a little Scriabin thrown in, rendered with a dense 20th Century-tonal harmonic palette.

The Twelve Guards of the Temple (2004) is an expansive, turgid tone poem with languid French harmony, exotic quasi-Eastern melodic touches, and dreamy pacing; but precisely what the work is about is anybody's guess. The composer's notes say that the 26-minute piece could have had the subtitle 'Journey of Initiation for Full Symphonic Orchestra', but I have no idea what that means. "There is no plan, simply a journey" is about all the composer offers. It's easy to get lost in this abstract hyper-romantic journey, but I often felt you couldn't see the trees for the forest.

The Poem (2002) is a 12-minute study in long erotic line for string orchestra. Again, the language is heated and sumptuous, though coherence is not necessarily part of the generally cantabile flow.

Finally, Euphonia (1989) is a 28-minute ballet score based on a wild and crazy tale by Berlioz (of all people). Euphonia is a futuristic city ruled by "the cult of music". Xilef, a spurned composer (what else?) takes up residence there after being rejected by the beautiful Mina. The city is ruled by a Great Composer named Shetland, who marries one Nadira, who, when she removes her mask after the obligatory dance of seduction, turns out to be none other than Mina. Xilef constructs an Igenious architectural device that makes the walls close in and crush all the undesirables at gala ball. Everybody is mashed, Xilef commits suicide, and Shetland goes insane.

The ballet was premiered in Metz in 1989, as always with music for the stage, it's difficult to tell what was intended minute by minute in the score without detailed cues. The music is nearly always forbidding, built with Petitgirard's tall-chord harmonic blocks and moving forward with voluptuous intent. The final moments are indeed crushing.

You'll need to have a taste for overblown French-Wagnerian and post-Scriabin traditions to appreciate all this. Performances are good, and obviously authoritative. Euphonia is a reissue.

Herbert Culot
MusicWeb International, March 2007

Conductor and composer, Laurent Petitgirard is a versatile musician. He regularly composes for films, but also writes for the concert hall. I suspect that in many French-speaking countries he may best be known for his atmospheric, somewhat nostalgic score for the Maigret TV series. He has also composed quite a number of orchestral works, works for voice and orchestra as well as two operas, of which the first, Joseph Merrick The Elephant Man has already been recorded. The present release offers three substantial orchestral scores composed over the last twenty or so years.

The earliest one is the suite from his ballet Euphonia. The libretto is based on the eponymous fantastic short story by Hector Berlioz. The story is about a futuristic musical city Euphonia in which a jealous composer Xilef (anagram of Felix) sets a musical trap to destroy the woman who spurned him and her lovers. The argument is further described in the insert notes, so that I need not go into any details about it. Anyway, the ballet’s argument provides the composer with many opportunities for colourful illustrative music, often of considerable imagination and energy. No doubt that Petitgirard’s experience gained in writing for films has helped, but there is nothing derivative about this very fine score. The music, here as in the other works, has a distinctive tone. I hear harmonies, turns of phrase and orchestral sounds also heard in the Maigret score, which says much – I think – for Petitgirard’s stylistic coherence.

This stylistic coherence is further displayed in the more recent works. Les Douze Gardiens du Temple is in effect a tone poem, that ultimately pays homage to Debussy. The title might suggest an allusion to the twelve tones, on which any music is generally based; but the music is certainly neither atonal nor serial, although it is packed with invention and is superbly scored by a master orchestrator. The piece opens with an arresting gesture, a sort of call-to-arms, to rivet one’s attention. The music then unfolds rather rhapsodically in a series of contrasting sections that make-up what the composer describes as a “journey of initiation”. This is a very fine piece indeed, maybe just a bit too long for its own good; but the music is often very fine and strongly expressive. This is really the sort of work, that might reconcile “unbelievers” with well-crafted, accessible contemporary music.

However, fine as these works are, the real gem in this attractive release is the imposing Poème pour grand orchestre à cordes completed in 2002. This compact piece “corresponds to a desire for fluidity, after the darkness of the opera Joseph Merrick” (the composer’s words). Beautifully scored for large string orchestra, the music unfolds almost effortlessly throughout its twelve-minute span; but the musical substance is such that you might be forgiven for thinking that the piece actually lasts much longer. I am in no doubt about it: this marvellous work is a minor masterpiece that clearly deserves wider exposure. Actually, this very fine release would be worth having, for the Poème alone.

Petitgirard’s music does not break any new ground, and clearly belongs to what is generally referred to as the 20th century mainstream. His models are Debussy, Ravel, Honegger and – at times – Dutilleux or Messiaen; but make no mistake about it: the music is highly personal, superbly crafted and – most importantly – strongly expressive. Certainly it is too fine to be ignored. I hope that Naxos will record more of his concert music soon. There is anyway much to enjoy here.

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